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Hoisington council outlines Covid-19 response
Playgrounds closed Tuesday, but parks remain open
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Veronica Coons Great Bend Tribune Hoisington City Council members met in the city auditorium for a special meeting Monday to discuss the city’s Covid-19 response. Social distancing was observed.

HOISINGTON — The Hoisington City Council met Monday night in a special meeting in the auditorium at the Hoisington Municipal Complex primarily to discuss the city’s response to the Covid-19 crisis and measures it will undertake to ensure public safety. In an effort to observe social distancing recommended during the Covid-19 crisis the nation faces, social distancing was observed.  

But, with the recently revised recommendations of limiting group gatherings to 10 persons, even that effort may not be adequate. The current order does not specify governmental meetings, but with the possibility of a revision in the days to come, Hoisington City Manager Jonathan Mitchell advised the time to consider alternatives is now. The city council consists of 8 elected officials plus the mayor, and the city manager is required to be present as well. 

Add to that the city clerk and the city attorney, and the 10-person limit is exceeded. 

Mitchell provided a few options including use of internet applications like Zoom to allow council members to meet virtually, and a means of providing access to the public. 

No action was taken at the meeting as details are still being worked out. Mitchell polled council members to determine who has home internet access and feels comfortable meeting virtually. The city will announce in the media and on the city’s facebook page when details are nailed down. The city attorney advised the council they are only required to meet once a month by law. Regularly, the council meets twice monthly, and the next meeting is scheduled to fall on April 13. 

“A lot can change between now and then,” Mitchell said. . 

City in “watch” status

Currently, the city is operating in a “watch” situation, but will move to a “warning” situation if a triggering event occurs. Mitchell defined a triggering event as a confirmed case of Covid-19 in Barton or adjacent counties. 

“It’s likely just a matter of time before we get to this,” he added. 

Noting some cities have identified a distance criteria, Hoisington will observe county borders, he said. 

Under a watch, all events scheduled to take place at city-owned spaces have been cancelled for the next 60 days if they are expected to have more than 10 people in attendance. 

The order includes outdoor events like the dedication of the completed dog park and to open the disk golf course, and the Hoisington Police Department bicycle rodeo, Mitchell said. Open gym at the city auditorium is suspended. 

Staff are being ordered to adhere to social distancing where possible, and travel is being limited, and travel outside the county has been suspended. Exceptions will be made, however, for EMS making medical transfers, and to law enforcement making prisoner transfers. 

Staff that travels into an area identified by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment as a recognized risk area will be quarantined for 14 days. 

Councilman Darren Reinert asked for clarification. He referred to the recent return of a city employee who recently returned from Colorado for training. Mitchell assured the council that he reached out to the Barton County Health Department prior to allowing the employee to report for work, and it was determined that because the employee had not been to any of the four counties identified as high risk, there was no reason not to allow the employee to return to work. 

“If someone wants to come back to work, and the authorities approve it, then we will allow them to come back,” Mitchell said. 

While under the watch, staff that present with symptoms of Covid-19 will be sent home to protect other staff members, Mitchell said, and the city will pay two weeks of normal wages through its Family First Response Act fund. 

The Friendship House will continue to provide carry-out meals for as long as the provider in Great Bend continues to cook meals, Mitchell said. But, after Friday, March 27, there will be no drivers available for the Trolley, so that service will be suspended. 

Playgrounds closed

Discussion about how to handle playground and park closures was lively. While some council members felt closing playgrounds under the watch situation was going too far, the majority were in favor of getting ahead of the game instead of reacting later. 

It was noted that the City of Great Bend has already closed parks and playgrounds because of information circulating that the Covid-19 virus may survive for hours on certain surfaces, and the city doesn’t have enough staff to continuously disinfect playground equipment to ensure public safety. With that in mind, the council decided by consensus to go ahead and close playgrounds and public restrooms at the three city parks on Tuesday. Hoisington City Parks will not be closed entirely however, until a triggering event occurs. In the meantime, walking paths, shelters and other and other amenities will be available provided groups do not exceed 10. 

Things that aren’t expected to change include the deadline for pet licenses 

“These are firm,” Mitchell said. “People can have the veterinarian fax in verification of vaccination and applications can be mailed in, dropped off in the city dropbox, or credit card payment provided over the phone.” 

There will also be no adjustments offered for city utility payments, and the city is working on clarifying the state’s cut-off rules. 

Pay for staff 

When the city moves to a “Warning” status, all city parks will be closed to the public. 

Also, city staff will be allowed to use Family First Response Act pay for the first two weeks they are needed to provide care for children while childcare and schools are closed due to the Covid-19 crisis. For full time staff, that’s 80 hours, and for part time staff, it equals the average hours they work in a two week period. 

Following that, employees can use accumulated sick and vacation leave to continue to care for themselves or children. Once that is expired, the city has opted to relax rules for shared leave among employees. 

“This provides a way for staff to help one another,” Mitchell said. “It could be especially helpful for a new employee without much leave built up. A fellow employee could provide some hours of their own if they wish.” 

Pool opening uncertain

Council members touched briefly on how to approach the opening of the city pool in light of the crisis at hand. With at least a month and a half before the anticipated date for filling the pool, they opted to put off any decisions until a future meeting. Repairs to the pool have been completed for the 2020 season, however it is uncertain if certification will be available for lifeguards.